18 June 2021

J.R. Martinez On Healing Through Compassion and COmmunication

6 minutes read time

Being a parent, I’ve learned how quickly time flies by. My daughter is nine now. It lasts for 12 months, but within those 52 weeks, it is ever so changing. There are constantly new things she’s curious about, new things she’s saying and new skills she’s developing. I never want to find myself on the outside saying ‘What happened?’ I want to be able to go through the process. It’s so important to be engaged with her. For me, it literally goes back to my childhood.

I think a lot of people don’t necessarily understand that I did not have a father in my life. He left when I was nine months old. The extent of a male in my life consisted of abusive, violent men who my mother was dating. It wasn’t until after I got out of the military that I starting being around men who were older than me and who were fathers and husbands. From a distance, I knew how it made me feel seeing them with their families. I wanted to feel the same thing.

When my daughter asks if she can do something, I want to drop everything and immediately do it now. Because the whole idea of a child asking if we could do something and the parent saying ‘hold on’ is a trigger for me. As a kid, I’d ask my mother if we could go to the park and she’d say she just needed to close her eyes for 15 minutes and it would turn into four hours and we'd end up not going. As innocent as that was, it literally scarred me.

It made me feel like I’d be let down by people. Every time people in my life said they were gonna do something and didn’t, I was let down.

I started to grow with this understanding that this was how the whole world was. If my own mother would do it to me, other people will do it to me. It’s crazy how it affected different types of relationships that I had up until five years ago. I learned this is why I behave the way I behave. I never want my daughter to feel that we are not reliable. I want her to feel like if she asks us for something that she can count on us. Communicating with my daughter is extremely important to me. I believe through communication and dialogue with my daughter, she learns social skills. And it’s important to me to show her I’m involved and for me to say 'I’m sorry’ if I mess up or make a mistake. I want to help her understand the importance of being vulnerable and being able to receive someone’s apology when someone shares it.

Being Hispanic, like a lot of cultures, being vulnerable and crying is not necessarily something that is promoted. As someone who served in the military and played sports in high school, it’s not promoted there either. It’s so important to me for people to be open and to be comfortable in their own skin. I’ve had to grow and evolve from a mental health stand point and be vulnerable and open and tell people as a man, I’m comfortable crying and tapping into that side of me.

When it’s related to parenting, if I don’t work on the wounds that exist inside of me mentally and emotionally, then I’m not going to be able to be the best father I could possibly be.

Mental health is incredibly critical because I have to work on me first. I have to identify what’s wrong first to be able to break that cycle with my child. I’m also an advocate for therapy. Mental health is very important to me and something I always try to emphasize. It’s easy to become fixated on my physical recovery and how challenging that was but I always try to remind people that the three years I spent in the hospital recovering is nothing in comparison to the last 18 years I spent recovering mentally and emotionally.

That’s why resources such as Family Man are so essential. The website is really user-friendly and I think stuff like this is incredible to have. When you have spaces for different groups, what you often don’t see is groups that support men or educate men on how to expand what the definition of a man actually is. Family Man is dope. I think it’s really cool that Movember is promoting this—to have a community where you can have a conversation and connect with other people who are in the same stage as life as you are and get validation. I think validation is really what everyone is searching for.

I also think children give you the opportunity to look at yourself and figure out painful moments from your own childhood. I have this arc of a story when it comes to being a parent. My wife and I were together and then a year into our daughter’s life, we separated and had a break from each other.

But we came back to each other and now we’re married with a second child on the way. So it’s kind of rare for couple to go through that. During that period of being apart, I remember I had my daughter for a weekend and she came over and we were going through the bedtime routine and she said she missed mommy. She started crying and it triggered something in me. All of a sudden I started hitting her with this guilt trip. “What, you don’t like spending time with Daddy?”

And she started crying even more saying ‘I love being with you too.’

She went to bed and I remember sitting in the living room by myself calling my best friend, who is 17 years older than I, and explaining to him what happened. I told him I was repeating the same cycle my mother used with me. My mother used guilt as a way to keep me there to avoid abandonment. For me, that is something as J.R. is still growing and evolving as a person. I had to be able to understand what my wounds are and how to address that in order not to pass down the same cycle to my daughter.

That is one of the most challenging things for me as a parent, to always be hyper aware and be open and understanding to your own imperfections and insecurities so that way you’re not projecting that onto your children.

While I’ve been blessed with too many precious memories to count at this point, I will never forget Father’s Day of 2017. I took my daughter and my wife to Denver and we were driving up to this mountain. The windows were down in the car and the sun was shining.

And out of nowhere, my daughter asked me ‘Daddy, where’s your daddy?’ She was five years old at the time.

I told her I didn’t know where he is and that my daddy was not ready to be a daddy when I came along. And she followed it up with her beautiful, pure heart and said “Well, I’m glad you were ready to be a daddy because you’re an awesome daddy.” It was one of those incredible moments that was so sweet and so beautiful. It made me so proud because I knew the challenges I had gone through as far as spending time with her and to still create that connection and bond with her meant everything. It made me feel ‘I’m not perfect, but I’m on the right path.’